If the US-Iran Gulf Crisis Worsens, Israel Will Be Drawn In
JNS.org – The war of words that Washington and Tehran have been waging these past few weeks swings back and forth between messages intended to calm and threats of escalation. One minute, both sides declare their desire to avoid war and say they are certain that war won’t break out; the next, they announce their willingness to enter a full-scale military conflict. In the past few days, the verbal poundings by both capitals have moved up a notch.
Donald Trump said that “it will be the official end of Iran” if the Islamic Republic dared attack American interests in the region, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that America was playing a “dangerous game” by concentrating forces in the Persian Gulf, and said that “today’s situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only.”
Beyond that, Rouhani effectively rejected Trump’s call for Iran to hold dialogue with the United States, and announced that his country would not do so until Washington removed the sanctions against it, reversed its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, and give Iran the “respect it deserves.”
But it’s not only the verbal sparring that could light up the Persian Gulf; it’s also the series of hostile actions that Iran has launched over the past few days. These began with an attack on an oil carrier off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, continued to armed drone strikes on oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, and included Katyusha rocket fire towards the US embassy in Baghdad.
In every case, the Iranians took care to carry out the attacks via loyal proxies, so that the incidents couldn’t be traced directly to Tehran. It would appear that these actions can’t be interpreted as anything other than an attempt to deter the United States from a military conflict with Iran, while making it clear that if a military conflict does ensue, not only American forces in the Gulf, but also Washington’s regional allies, would be forced to pay a heavy price.
Israel is trying to refrain from public comment on the tensions, but is aware that should a military conflict erupt in the Persian Gulf, Israel will be involved whether it wants to be or not. There are reliable reports about short-range ballistic missiles that Iran has supplied to militias in Iraq that are loyal to Tehran, which can be fired 700 kilometers (450 miles) and have the potential to strike both Saudi Arabia and Israel if launched from Iranian Quds Force sites in western Iraq.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who in a week is scheduled to host an Arab summit in Riyadh where he plans to denounce the Iranian provocations, holds the opinion that if the United States does not carry out limited strikes against Iran, Tehran won’t stop and will even try, in secret, to enrich uranium to a degree that will allow it to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
But the White House is still hoping that despite their recalcitrant statements, the Iranians will come to their senses, and, in light of harsher sanctions and a deteriorating economy, agree to return to the negotiating table.
Oded Granot is a journalist and international commentator on the Middle East. A version of this column first appeared in Israel Hayom.